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Jonathan Andrews: Executive coaching

Jonathan Andrews: Executive coaching

Review of the online course from the University of Cambridge

Jonathan Andrews was a keen participant of the Leading Change course for Queen's Young Leaders in 2017 and – as a result – was one of three to win a free online University of Cambridge course. He chose to study Executive Coaching. In this article he tells us why and what he gained.

I was delighted to learn last December that I was one of the three Queen’s Young Leaders Class of 2017 who were able to choose a further University of Cambridge course to undertake, with the usual fees covered. When I saw the course on Executive Coaching on offer, I decided it would be a very interesting and helpful course to take.

Why coaching?

Part of my motivation was the opportunity for my learning to shine a light on my current work.

I’m a trustee – or non-executive board member – for leading national charities Stonewall and Ambitious about Autism, working with the chief executive officer (CEO) and executive teams.

I sit on the UK government’s Work and Health Expert Advisory Board – advising the secretaries of state for Work and Pensions and Health, and the Minister for Disabled People. And I’m a Co-Founder of Mind’s Equality Leaders Initiative, advising teams and the executive.

As such, much of my time is already spent advising executives on the best paths to take.

Of course, advice is clearly very distinct from coaching as – among other things – it often happens in a group or meeting setting as opposed to one-on-one. And it is more concerned with organisational efficiency than the person themselves, there are also overlaps.

Why executive?

Additionally, most of my time is spent in my day job, as a trainee at city law firm Reed Smith and a current secondee to Bauer Media.

You might think that as a trainee, I’d have little contact with executives from day to day. but with the majority of trainees sitting with partners – the directors of the firm – this is far from the case.

Often, I am working directly with partners on cases. Sometimes a partner and I will be the only two people on it.

As such, having an insight into how partners work – and the time they have available, given they have to juggle legal work with client relationship management and the day-to-day running of the organisation – is incredibly helpful.

So, in both aspects of my work, I realised an executive coaching course would be useful.

The course

On the course, I’ve gained comprehensive understanding and training around the role of an executive coach.

The practice of coaching has been clearly demarcated from its sister professions – mentoring and counselling. The ethics and professional guidelines around effective and ethical coaching have been clearly laid out. I’ve had the opportunity to coach and to be coached.

Woman leaping up from 2017 to 2018

Further to this, the purpose and challenges of effective executive coaching were considered – such as the difficulty of enforcing hard-and-fast rules on a profession which is, at its heart, subjective, because it is based on the relationship between the coach and the person being coached.

Where, for instance, should the line be drawn as to how close a relationship can develop between the two?

What is the best form of communication in any given circumstance. And how and why does it vary? For example, when is an email conversation more effective than face-to-face meetings, or vice versa?

And, when potential clients approach coaches displaying unhelpful behaviours, where does one draw the line between the coachable and the un-coachable?

Clearly, people would not ask to be coached unless they, or their organisation or colleagues, felt there were improvements which could be made. But what behaviours or values can be changed, and which can’t?

The ultimate answer is that this very much depends on the situation – and the person.

Equality and diversity

Training on the importance of equality and fair treatment to professional executive coaching was also vital, and of great interest to me due to the overlaps with my projects.

In particular, the need to treat clients with disabilities or neurodivergent conditions fairly is a topical one.

How should a coach best work with a client who is aware, for instance, that they are perceived as being ‘difficult to work with’ – and wants to better understand and improve this – but whose differences may stem from being, for example, autistic? And whose words or body language will therefore be less likely to be accurately understood by others?

Certainly, the best route would not be to try to force the person to ‘change’ to ‘fit in’, without recognising this would involve pushing a square peg into a round hole.

The course has provided a comprehensive understanding of executive coaching, and helped me in my endeavours. It’s well worth considering – especially for the Queens Young Leaders on 2018 – who have the chance to put their enthusiasm into the Great Cambridge Race, and get the best out of their year.